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Anthropology students get the last laugh

By Katie Valentine

The development of humor is no laughing matter8212;it’s academic.

A special topics anthropology class teaches students the roles humor and laughter play in society. Ewa Wasilewska, a professor of anthropology, developed the course after Linda Adams of the Middle East Center asked her to do a lecture on humor in the Middle East.

“What is funny for someone may not be funny for someone else,” Wasilewska said

This class is not for sensitive students or those who are easily offended. Anthropology of Humor has a disclaimer that Wasilewska spent the first hour of the first class discussing.

“Potentially offensive topics which will be discussed in the class include, but are not limited to: race and ethnic humor; hate humor; religion and religious humor; sexual, sexist and gender humor as well as linguistic humor,” Wasilewska said.

Because the class, also being offered next semester, covers a wide variety of topics, Wasilewska has applied to make the class fulfilldiversity, humanities and behavioral science requirements.The course also examines the neurological side of humor, so it’s possible the course could someday fill a science requirement as well.

“When you laugh, chemicals are released that boost how you feel,” said Ron Millett, a senior in economics.

Millett said he enjoys doing film work. He took the class to help better understand humor, he said. His goal is that better understanding of humor will lead to writing humor better.
“If you get perspective on what you’re hearing, it helps you understand your world,” said Mona Delavan, who is auditing the class per House Bill 60.

H.B. 60 allows people 60 years of age or older to audit college classes. Delavan has a doctorate in education. She is taking anthropology classes at the U.

Wasilewska’s students will take their first test Thursday on theories of humor. One of the theories Wasilewska taught is the idea that some jokes are complex, and the more the joke is analyzed, the funnier it gets.

“There is more than one humorous interpretation,” Wasilewska said.
Humor also breaks into issues that are uncomfortable to talk about, Delavan said.
“We’ve gained an understanding (from the class)8212;that there’s more to it than we think,” Millett said.

Another humor theory is a theory of unshared humor, in which some people get the joke while others get offended. The problem with that kind of a joke is the offended person feels as though people are laughing at them, not with them, Wasilewska said.

Wasilewska uses the examples of Polish jokes and age-related jokes. Wasilewska is Polish and said jokes about the race used to offend her. Now, she finds herself laughing, too. But that isn’t true for jokes about age.

“The older I get, the more offended I get at jokes about age,” Wasilewska said.
Wasilewska also teaches about situations where emotional attachment could make an event a sensitive topic, but later your perspective changes, and it could become humorous.

“Your perspective of a humorous situation may change over time,” Wasilewska said. She cited an example of a time she took a trip to Egypt. While sliding down a sand dune, she heard someone yell to stop. She then noticed a scorpion next to her. The scorpion crawled onto her legs and crossed them to the other side of the dune. She held perfectly still, barely breathing as it crawled on her.

That scary situation now makes Wasilewska laugh as she recalls it.
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Patrick Harrington

Students in the Anthropology of Humor class react to a video shown during a lecture. The class, new this year, covers the roles of humor in society.

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